Afternoon tea has been raised to the level of art in San Francisco. As well as a slice of peace and quiet, you can enjoy a food service that reflects the culinary ingenuity and adventure of the city itself. You can spoil yourself on almost any budget—from less than $20 up to stratospheric champagne-and-caviar luxury. Here are the five best tea services in San Francisco. Pinkies out!
1. The Ritz-Carlton, San Francisco
Afternoon tea in The Lounge at The Ritz-Carlton, San Francisco is an exquisite experience, and cannot be contained within a single tiered tower—your artfully designed sandwich selections arrive on a separate plate, and currently include such decadent treats as roast duck and pumpkin with spinach tzatziki, and bergamot crab with pomegranate and avocado. The service is typically available on the first and third Saturdays of the month, excluding December, when a holiday schedule begins. However, each Saturday this October (with the exception of Halloween), a lovely “Pink Afternoon Tea” is on offer, in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Treats include pinot noir marshmallows and pink macarons, and $10 from each cover is donated to the Bay Area–based Breast Cancer Emergency Fund. —Seatings from 2–3:15 p.m., from $65, website
2. Charles Chocolates
One of the more unique afternoon tea services in San Francisco is on the outdoor patio of a premium chocolate kitchen. Charles Chocolates is a haven for sweets during the week, but for Sunday tea, owner Chuck Siegel also shows off his savory chef skills. He serves up generous helpings of tartines and sandwiches—think egg salad and house-cured salmon—alongside scones, breads, cakes, and his signature chocolate confections. So satisfying, it’s really more like lunch. Note: You’ll need to purchase tickets at least 24 hours in advance as space is limited to 36 guests. —Sundays at noon, from $36.50 (kids 8 and under $26.50), website
3. Fairmont San Francisco
4. Samovar Tea Lounge
The best place to explore tea customs as practiced around the world is at Samovar Tea Lounge, where sippers can select from English, Indian, Russian, Japanese, Chinese, and Moorish food and tea pairings—or head straight to dessert with a tower of delicate sweets, including chia pudding and green tea mousse. For something a little different, accompany your sweets with a funky matcha milkshake. There are three Samovar Tea Lounge locations (plus a specialist chai shop in the Mission), but we love the comfort of the Castro location’s sunny window seating, which includes plenty of pillows, as well as the shop’s proximity to Dolores Park. Bonus: It’s open from morning through night, so you don’t have to be bound to the afternoon part of the tea ritual. —9 a.m.–9 p.m., from $19, website
5. Palace Hotel
There is no more opulent setting for tea in San Francisco than at a marble-topped table under the 106-year-old glass-domed atrium of The Garden Court at Palace Hotel. There is also no pricier an option, with Saturday afternoon tea service packages that run up to $325 for a champagne-and-caviar-drenched tea for two. Less well known, however, is that you can also order from a lovely, and more affordable, à la carte afternoon tea menu from Sunday through Friday. Sweet and savory selections include strawberry and almond milk gelée, bite-sized scones, and a warm crab Asiago tart served with a side of luscious Dungeness crab meat.—Daily 2–5 p.m., Saturday service from $68, website
Tamara Palmer is a daily news writer, rapper confidante, DJ, and celebrity chef ghostwriter from San Francisco.